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The ‘Obvious Buyer’ For CNN Center Has $5B Of Motivation Across The Street

As CNN’s parent company plans to sell the news organization's iconic Downtown Atlanta headquarters to outside developers, locals are pointing to CIM Group — already redeveloping the 40-acre Gulch property next door — as a logical buyer, for business and familial reasons.

CNN Center in Downtown Atlanta

WarnerMedia, a subsidiary of AT&T that operates CNN, HBO and other properties, told staffers last week that it plans to sell CNN Center, the iconic 1.2M SF facility on Marietta Street in Downtown Atlanta. State Farm Arena, while not part of the sale and owned independently by the city, is directly connected to CNN Center.

State Farm Arena also is home to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks (except for the rest of this season, as the NBA assembles in a Walt Disney World bubble), which are owned by Tony Ressler, CIM co-founder and principal Richard Ressler’s brother. 

“I'm sure CIM will take a hard look at it, for sure,” Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson said. “They control too much of the future neighborhood.”

CIM is spearheading a $5B redevelopment of the largely undeveloped Gulch site next door to CNN Center, which it purchased in 2018 from the city of Atlanta and Norfolk Southern in a deal that involved billions in tax incentives and a complex web of financing.

“The obvious buyer is CIM,” City Realty Advisors President Tim Holdroyd said. “They literally control the other acres across the street.”

A spokesman for CIM Group declined to comment.

“CIM's long-standing policy is not to comment on any action it may or may not be contemplating,” Mendel Communications owner Bill Mendel said.

It remains unclear if WarnerMedia has a buyer already lined up for the property. Chief Financial Officer Pascal Desroches wrote in a memo last week, “we are not disclosing the sale price at this time." CNN’s own story on the announcement said the company will “look for a buyer” for a possible sale-leaseback deal.

Early plans for the Gulch project envisioned more than 9M SF of office, 1M SF of retail, 2,100 apartments — many of which would be reserved as affordable — and 1,500 hotel rooms. The first step for the project is a three-year process to create a new street grid 40 feet higher — it is essentially a vast, sunken parking lot — and bring it in line with the elevation of CNN Center.

Renovating the monolithic CNN Center could give CIM an opportunity to immediately add office to its Gulch project without the cost of building from the ground up, Holdroyd said.

“If you can buy it cheaper than you can build it, why not do it?” he said.

If CIM has no interest or plans to pursue CNN Center, the building will likely attract a developer with eyes on a rebirth, considering its location at the heart of Atlanta’s entertainment center.

“I remember when there was ice skating in there. I'm sure something good will come out of it,” C.D. Moody Construction founder David Moody said. “It's a great location and has a lot of potential."

Robinson said it helps that CNN doesn't intend to move out of its headquarters right away. Officials with the news network told media that CNN intends to eventually move its operations to Midtown. That gives any new owner an opportunity to plan how to reposition the former cable news network's headquarters for another tenant.

“This building is incredibly well-located, and someone will buy it with a real vision,” Robinson said. “And with [CNN] in it for another five years, you have time to figure out what to do.”